The New York Public Library Digital Gallery
December 21, 1874|
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Died||April 24, 1930
Laguna Beach, California, U.S.
|Occupation||Comic opera, musical comedy and vaudeville performer|
Adele Ritchie (December 21, 1874 – April 24, 1930), was an American prima donna of comic opera and star of Edwardian musical comedies and vaudeville. Her career began in the early 1890s and continued for nearly twenty-five years. Her life would end tragically in a murder-suicide involving a close friend.
Early life and career
Ritchie was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Quaker parents of French descent and, by the age of three, the step-daughter of Jacob Benclift Pultz, founder of the J.B. Pultz Company. She attended the Catholic girl’s preparatory school, Villa Maria Academy at Malvern, and made her first stage appearance as a singer in a production of a French comedy entitled The Isle of Champagne at Miner's Fifth Avenue Theatre on June 5, 1893. With the aid of Reginald De Koven, Ritchie appeared in the fall of 1893 at the Park Theatre, Philadelphia, playing a minor role in his comic opera, The Algerians. Her rendition of "Song of the Rose" became an audience favorite when The Algerians appeared in New York at the Garden Theatre and later Daly's Theatre. When Marie Tempest, the prima donna, left the production at the end of the year, Ritchie was chosen as her replacement. The Algerians like many other road tours found it difficult to achieve profitability in the face of the economic consequences resulting from the Panic of 1893.
On July 14, 1894 Ritchie and the German tenor Conrad Behrens sang with the Sousa Band in a summer concert performed at Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn. At Abbey's Theatre, that September, Ritchie opened as Princess Mirane in The Devil’s Deputy, an operetta adapted from the French by J. Cheever Goodwin and composer Edward Jakobowski. The following week though she was replaced by the more experienced Amanda Fabris, who manager Al Canby and lead actor Francis Wilson felt would give the stronger performance. Ritchie was next engaged at the American Theatre in January 1895 as Madge Brainerd in the Harrison Grey Fiske political drama, The District Attorney, and that summer at the Garrick Theatre, New York, she played Little Willie in the burlesque Trilby by Joseph W. Hebert and Charles Puener.
In 1896/97 Ritchie toured in the Reginald De Kovan and Harry B. Smith comic opera The Mandarin playing Ting-ling, favorite wife of the Mandarin and, at London’s Shaftesbury Theatre later in 1897, appeared as Cleopatra in the Victor Herbert and Harry B. Smith comic opera, The Wizard of the Nile; or, The Egyptian Beauty. By January 1898 Ritchie was reported to be in Paris studying under the Italian tenor Giovanni Sbriglia.
Ritchie made her vaudeville debut with tenor Don Giovanni Perugini (née John Haley Augustin Chatterton), the husband of Lillian Russell, early in April 1898 at Koster and Bial's Music Hall in an operetta by Alexandre Derolles entitled Au Bain. That November Ritchie assumed the role Dorothy Stanley from Yvette Violette after Augustine Daly moved the Edwardian musical comedy A Runaway Girl to the Fifth Avenue Theatre. The musical, in which she sang, Oh Listen to the Band and I Love You, My Love, I Do, continued its long run well into February 1899. Ritchie was ranked 8 out of 12 among leading actresses whose companies had the highest gross receipts over the 30 week 1898/99 season.
On Christmas Day 1899 Ritchie played Beatrice Jerome in the R.A. Barnet musical comedy, Three Little Lambs, at the Fifth Avenue Theatre, and would go on to appear in such Broadway musical productions as The Toreador as Dora Selby at the Knickerbocker Theatre, January–May 1902; A Chinese Honeymoon as Mrs. Pineapple at the Casino Theatre, June 1902-April 1903; Fantana, by John Raymond Hubbell, as Fanny Everett at the Lyric Theatre, January–September 1905; The Social Whirl, as Violet Dare at the Casino Theatre, April–September 1906; Fascinating Flora as Flora Duval at the Casino Theatre, May–September 1907; and All for the Ladies as Nancy Panturel at the Lyric Theatre, December 1912-April 1913. At this point in her career Ritchie returned to vaudeville billed as the Dresden China Prima Donna in skits and acts that often featured songs she had performed over her career.
On October 21, 1895, Ritchie married Joseph W. Herbert, a British-born comedian and playwright who at the time was touring with Lillian Russell. Over the height of her career Ritchie maintained a country home with a horse barn in Westchester County, and a residence at 67 West Fifty-Seventh Street, New York. She enjoyed horseback riding, bicycling, autoing and competing in dog shows. Ritchie was awarded first prize as the most graceful and elegantly dressed rider of the 1896 Long Branch Bicycle Pageant, and her dog, Little Dot, accumulated the required points to win the 1908 American Kennel Club Yorkshire Terrier class at the seventh annual Wissahickon Kennel Dog Show. By June 1910 Ritchie's circumstances had diminished to the point she was compelled to file for bankruptcy with debts amounting over $16,000 and assets less than $300.
In December 1908, Ritchie arranged, largely through force of personality, the release of Alice Crowninshield Rogers from involuntary confinement at a Connecticut mental institution. Rogers, who Ritchie may have known socially, came from a wealthy family and was the ex-wife of Boston millionaire Thomas Pierce. Ritchie felt Rogers (most likely an alcoholic) had been abandoned by her friends and family. The two later took up residence at Ritchie’s farm near Pelham, New York. Rogers was once again confined, this time at Bellevue Hospital, in June 1910 after causing a disturbance at the Casino Theatre. The incident was later described by a doctor as an episode of “alcoholic hysteria," In August 1910 both women were arrested near a Pelham train station after Ritchie allegedly interfered with police officers attempting to give Rogers a minor traffic citation. In the end all charges, save the traffic violation, were dropped.
Ritchie married at Stamford, Connecticut on June 12, 1913, a day in advance of a planned Friday the 13th nuptial, Charles Nelson Bell, a New York wine importer and son of a prominent banker. This union ran into difficulties almost from the beginning with allegations of bigamy from Bell’s former wife, his father’s disapproval of Ritchie, credit woes for both and finally a dispute between Ritchie and her husband over an automobile. During this period Ritchie reportedly slapped a process server after receiving a summons on the steps of a New York City courthouse and was threatened with jail after missing several court dates.
Murder-suicide at Laguna Beach
Toward the end of the 1920s Ritchie became director of the amateur theatre group, Community Players, at Laguna Beach in Southern California. During this time she became friends with Doris Miller, a set designer at the Laguna Beach Playhouse. Miller, who was some 23 years Ritchie's junior, came from a prominent Waukegan, Illinois family and was the former wife of Chicago dentist, Dr. Clinton Foster Palmer. For a time the two were often seen together at social events involving the Laguna Beach artist colony, but this began to change when Ritchie was replaced as the group's director after clashes with some of the actors. Ritchie grew increasingly bitter over this, which only escalated after Miller received an invitation to a social event, and she did not.
The two women were observed arguing on the afternoon of August 24, 1930, and that evening their bodies were found in Miller's bungalow apartment by a friend returning a lost dog. Miller had been shot in the back, while Ritchie was shot in the mouth. From the evidence Ritchie apparently made a futile attempt to stem the flow of blood from Miller's wound before cleaning up at a bathroom sink and then ultimately taking her own life.
- Parker, John - Who's Who in the Theatre, 1916, p.412 Retrieved July 24, 2013
- Briscoe, Johnson - The Actors Birthday Book,1907, p.280 Retrieved July 23, 2013
- Death Winner in Long Race. Sarasota Herald Tribune, January 11, 1926, p. 1 Retrieved July 22, 2013
- Theatre Gossip-Adele Ritchie to Star. The New York Times, December 29, 1893, p. 8
- Curtains Rung Down. The Utica Sunday Tribune, June 17, 1894 Retrieved July 23, 2013
- Manhattan Beach (advertisement). The New York Tribune, July 14, 1894, p. 11 Retrieved July 23, 2013
- Mr. Wilson's New Operetta. New York Times, September 11, 1894, p. 5; New Princess in The Devil's Deputy. New York Times, September 17, 1894 p. 3
- Clapp, John Bouvé & Edgett, Edwin Francis - Plays of the Present, 1902, p. 90 Retrieved July 19, 2013
- Our Theaters Next Week. The World (New York), June 1, 1895, p. 6 Retrieved July 19, 2013
- Life Magazine, vol. 28, 1896, p. 360 Retrieved July 19, 2013
- Archer, William - The Theatrical World of 1893-97, 1898, p. 409 Retrieved July 19, 2013
- Dramatic and Musical Notes. Kansas City Journal, January 23, 1898, p. 9 Retrieved July 19, 2013
- This Week on Our Stage. The New York Sun, March 27, 1898, p. 3 Retrieved July 19, 2013
- John Perugini, The Bright Stars of Yesterday Retrieved July 19, 2013
- Runaway Girl. The New York Times, November 22, 1898, p. Retrieved July 21, 2013
- Stories and Gossip of the Stage. The Kansas City Journal, April 30, 1899, p. 19 Retrieved July 21, 2013
- Adele Ritchie The Internet Broadway Database Retrieved July 21, 2013
- The New York Sun, October 4, 1914, p. 8 Retrieved July 21, 2013
- Adele Ritchie Married. New York Times, November 4, 1895. P. 2
- On Wheels at Long Branch. The New York Tribune, July 19, 1896, p. 9 Retrieve July 19, .2013
- Big Quaker Dog Show. New York Times, June 14, 1908, p. S1
- Adele Ritchie is Bankrupt. The Bemidji Daily Pioneer, June 24, 1910, p. 3 Retrieved July 21, 2013
- Says Providence Guided Her. The New York Times, December 12, 1908,p.4 Retrieved July 22, 2013
- To Ill to go to Court.The New York Tribune, June 30, 1910, p. 14 Retrieved July 22, 2013
- Adele Ritchie Says She Was Not Profane. The New York Tribune, August 16, 1910, p. 1 Retrieved July 23, 2013
- Adele Ritchie Dodges 13th. New York Times, June 14, 1913, p. 1
- No. 1 Lost Wifehood, says Actress, Now No. 2. The New York Tribune, July 6, 1913, p. 10 Retrieved July 21, 2013
- Adele Ritchie Seeks Auto. The New York Sun, June 4, 1914, p. 6 Retrieved July 21, 2013
- Actress Hits Process Server. The New York Sun, February 5, 1914, p. 1 Retrieved July 21, 2013
- "Mrs. Guy Bates Post and Hostess Found Dead in Home. Believed Former Actress, Adele Ritchie, Killed Friend and Then Herself. Two Seen Together on Street of Laguna Beach Hour Before Discovery of Bodies. Had A Previous Quarrel. Mrs. Post Divorced Actor in December. Victim Heiress and Ex-Wife of Minnesota Doctor. Had Quarreled Wednesday. Obtained Divorce in December. First Marriage to C.N. Bell. Mrs. Palmer Also Divorced". New York Times. April 25, 1930. Retrieved 2013-12-22.
Mrs. Guy Bates Post, the former Adele Ritchie, a stage star of two decades ago, and Mrs. Doris Murray Palmer, formerly of Chicago, were found shot dead in the fashionable bungalow of Mrs. Palmer here late ...
- "Woman Kills Rival; Ends Life", Sarasota Herald-Tribune, pp. 1-2, April 25, 1930; retrieved July 23, 2013
- "Adele Ritchie (1874 - 1930) - Find A Grave Memorial". www.findagrave.com. Retrieved 2016-09-21.